No slowing down
In July, you might think that the pace of change is slowing down as temperatures rise, some bird song decreases and the meadows and hedgerows show off their stunning variety of flowers. But look again, and see new flowers and insects appear throughout the month and notice how birds and mammals are using this time of plenty to prepare for harder times in the coming months.
A wander by the river
A walk by a stream or river in summer is always a treat with the possibility of seeing a wide variety of plants, insects, fish, birds and even mammals. Within the channel, the dark green leaves of water crowfoot can impede the flow while their white-petalled flowers adorn the surface. Riverside plants including branched bur-reed, comfrey, meadowsweet, purple loosestrife, water forget-me-not, watercress plus various sedges and grasses provide a complex habitat in which insects can find both food and refuge.
Now is the time to watch the aerial courtship dance of the male banded demoiselle in front of the metallic-green bodied female. Once mated she will lay individual eggs into the submerged stems of aquatic vegetation. Many other insects including mayflies, caddis, blackflies and non-biting midges spend their larval stages on the riverbed and in submerged vegetation before rising to the water surface and emerging as flying insects.
In their larval stages, many of these insects (together with freshwater shrimps, worms and snails) are important sources of food for freshwater fish including minnows, bullheads and trout and if they survive to emerge as adult insects, then they may fall prey to dragonflies, water birds or bats!
Grasses are interesting too
Although grasses are sometimes difficult to identify and have no need for gaudy flowers to attract insects because they are wind pollinated, everyone can enjoy their varied forms. For example, a field of Yorkshire fog blowing in the wind can look like a purple sea whereas the fine radiating leaves of a tuft of bristle bent resemble a mini explosion frozen in time. The flowers of quaking grass hang like delicate baubles and the shining silvery spikelets of false oat grass on our roadside verges are well worth a close inspection.
Some of our summer butterflies use grasses as their food plants. For example the caterpillars of the large skipper use cocksfoot and those of the small skipper feed on Yorkshire fog. Whereas these skippers are widespread in England and Wales, the Lulworth skipper is restricted to the coast of Dorset, where it feeds on Tor-grass.
July is the perfect time to visit Dorset’s internationally famous heathlands. Look for the silver-studded blue butterfly flying low over the drier parts of the heath. Like many blue butterflies this species has a close relationship to ants the ants protect the butterfly caterpillars and pupae and in return they obtain sugar-rich food from the caterpillars.
In damper parts of the heath look for the bright yellow spikes of the bog asphodel, that can occur in dense patches and later give way to deep orange fruiting spikes. These mineral-poor heaths also support carnivorous plants such as round-leaved sundew, that capture small insects on their sticky leaves before digesting them to obtain a source of nitrogen.
A walk in the woods
Within deciduous woodlands mixed family parties of our small resident birds, such as blue and great tits, nuthatches, tree creepers and others, may be seen feeding in the canopy as they try to avoid predators. Nuthatches in particular are a delight to watch, not only for their smart plumage but also for their agility on tree trunks and branches. Many small woodland birds have similar contact calls, but the nuthatch is more strident and a family party is hard to miss.
An evening stroll
And finally, why not take a stroll on a summer’s evening to experience some different elements of our rich wildlife. The wonderful evening scent of honeysuckle in the hedgerow has developed to attract pollinating moths which in turn will be on the menu for various bats. Close sightings of deer, foxes and badgers are always possible as the light starts to fade, and at that time look out for glow worms.
In reality glow worms are beetles and it is the adult females that produce a bioluminescent glow from their last two segments to attract the males. They are known from quite a wide variety of habitats including limestone areas, open grassland, hedges, heathland and gardens. The larvae, which take two or three years to mature, feed on small snails
Written by John Wright
Dorset Wildlife Trust Member & Volunteer
Stop Press: If you see a 1m high plant with pink flowers this month take some time to check out this article on Rosebay Willowherb
Banded Demoiselle by Ken Dolbear
Water Crowfoot by Ken Dolbear
Silver Studded Blue by Ken Dolbear
Bog Asphodel by Jane Adams
Nuthatch by Ken Dolbear
Larva of Glow worm by Ken Dolbear